Spotlight | In Short Order, Embiid Earns Impressive All-Star Feat

by Brian Seltzer Reporter

BOSTON - Joel Embiid’s time as a playing member of the 76ers has been relatively brief, but by the same token, certainly long enough to inspire understandably auspicious hopes and visions about what the future could hold for him, and the team itself.

From even before his first appearance in a professional game, which, by the way, was only 15 months ago, the bar was set high, with lofty phrases like “franchise player,” and “transformative potential” being attached to the big man.

So far, Embiid has done nothing short of meet these expectations, and Thursday brought with it the latest indicator of his rising, transcendent stature.

Two months shy of his 24th birthday, and with a mere 62 career games under his belt, Embiid was announced as one of five Eastern Conference players voted to start this year’s All-Star Game, slated for February 18th at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, the venue where Embiid turned in one of the top performances of the NBA season.

With nearly 1.3 million ballots cast in his name, the 7-footer became the first Sixer to earn an All-Star start via the fan vote since Allen Iverson achieved the feat for the 11th and final time in 2010. The franchise was last represented in All-Star Weekend’s main event in 2013, when Jrue Holiday was chosen as a reserve by the league’s coaches. 

“It’d be a great accomplishment,” Embiid said after Thursday morning’s shootaround in Boston, when asked what it would mean to be voted an All-Star starter. “It’d be the first of many, God willing.”

Examine Embiid’s body of work at this stage of his second professional campaign, and his worthiness of All-Star status is readily apparent.

As of Thursday morning, the Cameroonian was the league’s only player to post averages of at least 23.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists, and 1.5 blocks per game (Embiid’s splits are 23.8 ppg / 10.8 rpg / 3.7 apg / 1.9 bpg), and is on pace to be the first person to hit these marks in a single season since DeMarcus Cousins did so in 2014-2015.

A First-Team All-Rookie recipient and Rookie of the Year finalist in 2017, Embiid currently ranks 13th in the NBA in scoring, seventh in rebounding, fifth in blocks, third in usage percentage (33.1), and 12th in double-doubles (18).

In 31 outings, he’s scored 20 points 23 times, and 30 points on seven occasions, including Monday’s dominant 34-point, 11-rebound display in a win over Toronto.

There was also, of course, the outrageously memorable 46-point, 15-rebound, 7-assist, 7-block outburst he summoned up November 15th in Los Angeles against the Lakers. Prior to that night, those numbers had never before been recorded by the same player in a single game in the history of the league.

En route to racking up Thursday’s exclusive All-Star starter designation, Embiid has navigated an impressive set of circumstances. Remarkably, he didn’t play basketball, come to America, or start speaking English until his teenage years. There were then the two seasons he lost to injury after being chosen by the Sixers third overall in the 2014 draft.

Fast forward a few years, and Embiid now finds himself not only as a face of an organization on the rise, but a league’s youth movement, too.

The center believes he could be doing even more than he’s already done.

“I feel like I could be much better,” said Embiid, who, up until recently, hadn’t been practicing regularly. “I’m still learning a lot, can’t wait to keep progressing.”

“I can’t believe how good he’s been,” Brett Brown said Thursday morning. “He’s an All-Star, and never really practiced that much.”

Like Embiid, Ben Simmons made a strong case for All-Star starter consideration. The rookie point man is sixth in the NBA in assists (7.3 apg), eighth in steals (1.9 spg), third in triple-doubles (4), and ranks second among his first-year peers in scoring (16.8 ppg), and first in double-doubles (18).

Although Simmons didn’t make the starting cut, he still has the chance to join Embiid in Hollywood next month, as a reserve. Those selections will be revealed Tuesday, January 23rd.

“I think that they both are All-Stars, in their own right,” said Brown.

Embiid, however, ensures the Sixers will have at least one selection this winter, the first of the Brown era, for that matter. The head coach feels the individual honor reflects the collective strides the club is making.

“I’m happy with where we’re at,” Brown said. “To think you could have two All-Stars out of it would even confirm that more.”

The Sixers last sent two players to an All-Star Game in 2002, when the point guard-big man combo of Iverson and Dikembe Mutombo appeared in Philadelphia.